Arctic Sunrise captures EU trawlers plundering West African seas

Posted by Willie — 27 February 2012 at 9:30am - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Pierre Gleizes / Greenpeace
Activists highlight pirate Russian pelagic fishing trawler

Our ship, the Arctic Sunrise is currently in Mauritanian waters, to highlight the problems of overfishing emptying African seas. Vast factory-style fishing boats are trawling out fish at an alarming rate and decimating local ecosystems and livelihoods in the process.

The campaign team at sea have already encountered a number of these super trawlers, in the seas off Senegal last week.  Boats from as far away as Russia and China fish these waters, but scandalously the EU is also exporting its own overfishing to West Africa.

We’ve also pulled together a new report (read in full at the bottom of this blog) on what is happening in the waters off West Africa, and why reform of Europe’s fishing laws has to tackle this element of Europe’s fishing footprint too. 

Some of the biggest, most ominous, offenders are the mega trawlers of the Pelagic Freezer Association (PFA), which include the largest trawler ever built. This is overcapacity on an obscene scale.

The European fleet is unfairly competing with local fishermen. It would take 56 traditional fishing pirogues one year to catch as much fish as one super-trawler can capture and process in a single day. 

But it gets worse. We subsidise these massive vessels to fish away Africa’s future.  As our report reveals an estimated €142.7 million of European taxpayers’ money was paid to enable these vessels to fish Mauritanian and Moroccan waters between 2006 and 2012. The PFA had previously received a further whack of EU subsidy, a meagre €21 million to modernise their fleet.

The impact on local communities is huge. With less and less fish local fishermen are forced to make dangerous journeys further away, some simply give up and move away. Trawlers trash traditional fishing gears, which the locals can’t afford to replace. Whilst nominal deals may have been done with governments, it is local communities and Africa’s seas that pay the price. When fishing represents the main source of protein, and a major source of livelihoods, it really matters how much we are stealing from Africa’s waters. And with increased danger from collisions with trawlers, some West African fishermen end up paying with their lives.

Senegalese fishermen welcoming Arctic Sunrise in their traditional fishing pirogues

We have to stop the subsidised plunder of Africa by European fishing boats. Europe’s fishing fleet is simply too big. We cannot continue to export our overfishing addiction.

We have to make fair deals on fisheries and make sure that we are not stealing from the people of West Africa, the Pacific, or anywhere else for that matter.

This is just the start of our ship tour in West Africa, look out for more updates from us, and directly from the team onboard soon.


I was in Killybegs, Donegal, in Eire, about six years ago. They have an annual 'blessing of the fleet' ceremony there, and the quays at Killybegs harbour were lined with huge trawlers. When I asked where they went for their fish, thinking that UK coastal fisheries were unlikely to sustain such vessels, I was told to my surprise "West Africa".  

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About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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